Another 2.4 million Americans applied for unemployment last week as the coronavirus pandemic continues to push the country to its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. More than 38.6 million Americans have sought unemployment benefits in the past nine weeks, and economists warn over 40% of the jobs may never come back. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell has warned that unemployment could reach a staggering 25% by the end of June. Despite this, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is rejecting calls to extend enhanced unemployment benefits, which are set to expire in July. Meanwhile, the number of homeowners who did not pay their mortgage jumped by 1.6 million in April — a new monthly record.
New data from the Census Bureau found nearly half of all American adults say they or a member of their household had lost employment income since mid-March. But not all Americans have suffered. One new report found the wealth of the nation’s billionaires has increased by $434 billion, or 15%, since the pandemic began. This is Chuck Collins of the Institute for Policy Studies.
Chuck Collins: “Since March 18th, 38.5 million people have filed for unemployment. Over that same two months, billionaire wealth has surged — $434 billion in that short time. And we’re seeing the billionaire class in the United States, overall, seeing their wealth accelerate in the last couple months. Even Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg’s wealth combined has gone up $60 billion since March 18th.”
Fears are growing Latin America could become the new epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Brazil, the death toll has topped 20,000 after nearly 1,200 deaths were reported Thursday. It was the country’s deadliest day to date. Mexico also reported over 400 new COVID deaths and nearly 3,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday — both new single-day records. Cases are also rapidly rising in Peru and Chile. Sixty percent of all new COVID cases are now in South America, Asia and Africa. India and Indonesia both reported new daily highs of coronavirus cases Thursday. China has reported a new coronavirus outbreak in the province of Jilin near the border of Russia and North Korea. And Singapore reported about 450 news cases — nearly all among migrants who live in crowded dormitories built for foreign workers. Meanwhile, in the Middle East, the number of cases in Gaza doubled on Thursday, from 20 to 49, raising fears of a new outbreak.
As the coronavirus spreads across the Global South, a new World Bank report estimates some 3 billion people still don’t have access to clean water and soap to wash their hands — one of the most effective ways to prevent transmission of the coronavirus.
The U.S. death toll from the COVID-19 outbreak has topped 95,000. Flags will be flown at half-staff over Memorial Day weekend to remember the lives lost to the coronavirus. President Trump issued the order after Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill asked flags to be lowered on the day when the U.S. death toll tops 100,000. In Alabama, the capital city of Montgomery has been forced to divert COVID patients to Birmingham due to a shortage of intensive care beds. This comes just days after Republican Governor Kay Ivey opened much of the state. Meanwhile, in North Carolina, 570 chicken processing workers have tested positive at a Tyson plant.
President Trump toured a Ford manufacturing plant in Michigan that was repurposed to make personal protective equipment. Trump refused to wear a mask while speaking to the press inside the plant, in defiance of an executive order from the state’s governor and the plant’s own rules. Trump said he wore one during a tour of the Ford plant but took it off before speaking to reporters.
President Donald Trump: “Well, I did wear — I had one on before. I wore one in this back area. But I didn’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it.”
Photos later emerged showing Trump wearing a mask during a tour of the plant. Trump’s visit to Michigan came at a time when the state is facing three major crises: The COVID outbreak has killed more than 5,100 people in Michigan; the state’s unemployment rate is at an all-time high of 22.7% percent; and more than 10,000 homes were evacuated in Midland, the home of Dow Chemical, after two dams breached earlier this week after heavy rainfall.
The New York Times reports that nursing homes with African American and Latino populations have been twice as likely to get hit by coronavirus outbreaks as predominantly white nursing homes. Overall, 34,000 residents and staff at long-term care facilities have died from COVID — that’s about a third of the nation’s overall death toll.
The Antiracist Research & Policy Center has helped launch a COVID Racial Data Tracker to document how the pandemic is devastating communities of color. The site highlights how the pandemic has taken the lives of nearly 20,000 African Americans. While Black people account for 13% of the nation’s population, they have accounted for 25% of deaths during the pandemic. Ibram X Kendi, who heads the Antiracist center, said the tracker was needed because the federal government was failing to collect racial demographic data.
Ibram X. Kendi: “We felt it was necessary to build the most comprehensive data set available and make presentable for people to understand the racial disparities we’re actually seeing all over this country. And hopefully people will use the tracker to recognize what communities are the most vulnerable in their states, and ensure that those communities are — policy is changing and those communities are receiving relief.”
Following weeks of outcry, authorities in Georgia have arrested the man who filmed the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was chased down and shot to death by two white men in February. William Bryan, who is white, was arrested on charges of felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment. He filmed the disturbing video showing Arbery jogging down a narrow road in Brunswick, Georgia, in broad daylight, before being ambushed. Retired police officer Gregory McMichael and his son Travis were both arrested and charged with murder and aggravated assault earlier this month.
The Trump administration has announced it will withdraw from another major international arms control deal, the Open Skies Treaty, which the George H.W. Bush administration signed in 1992. The deal allows the United States, Russia and 33 other countries to fly unarmed observation aircraft over the others’ territory to help reduce the risk of war. Last year, Trump also withdrew from the INF Treaty — the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia. On Thursday, Trump’s arms control negotiator, Marshall Billingslea, criticized Russia and China and warned that the United States is prepared to outspend anyone in a new nuclear arms race.
Marshall Billingslea: “The president has made clear that we have a tried and true practice here. We know how to win these races, and we know how to spend the adversary into oblivion. And if we have to, we will. But we sure would like to avoid it.”
In news from Capitol Hill, 29 House Democrats are calling on Congress to reduce this year’s military budget. In a letter, they wrote, “We must remain focused on combating the coronavirus and not on increasing military spending that already outpaces the next 10 closest nations combined.” The letter was organized by Congressmembers Barbara Lee of California and Mark Pocan of Wisconsin.
More than 80 deaths have been reported in eastern India and Bangladesh after Cyclone Amphan battered the region, leaving millions of people without power, damaging crops and destroying thousands of homes. It was the strongest cyclone to hit the region in over two decades. The worst damage was reported in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal, where many lost their homes.
Tuntuni Boira: “Due to yesterday’s rain, my house was wrecked. A tree fell on it. Everything is destroyed. Where will we stay? We used to work in Odisha, but due to the lockdown, everything is closed. There is no work and no income. My husband works in Odisha, and he’s stuck there and is unable to send us money. How will I build my home? I have used up the money my husband sent to build a mud wall. But what will I eat now?”
China’s most important political event of the year, the National People’s Congress, has begun after a two-month delay due to the coronavirus outbreak. The Congress is expected to approve a new security law in Hong Kong that would reportedly criminalize “foreign interference,” “secessionist activities” and the “subversion of state power.” Opposition lawmakers in Hong Kong claim such a move would end the autonomy of the former British colony, which has been rocked by protests over the past year. Dennis Kwok is a member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council.
Dennis Kwok: “I just want to say to the international community that this is the end of Hong Kong. This is the end of 'one country, two systems.' Make no mistake about it, that Beijing, the Central People’s Government, has completely breached its promise to the Hong Kong people.”
The international humanitarian aid organization Oxfam has announced it is laying off 1,450 employees — a third of its staff — and withdrawing operations from 18 countries, including Afghanistan, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Haiti. Oxfam is facing a funding shortage due to the pandemic. Donations to Oxfam also fell after news broke two years ago that Oxfam had covered up sexual abuse and misconduct allegations against staff working in Haiti during a 2011 post-earthquake relief effort.
The Senate has confirmed John Ratcliffe to be the new director of national intelligence in a party-line vote. He will become the fourth person to hold the job within the past year.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has advanced the nomination of right-wing filmmaker Michael Pack to head the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which operates various state-run media outlets, including Voice of America. Pack has worked closely with Steve Bannon, the former Trump adviser who once headed Breitbart News.
Food Not Bombs is marking its 40th anniversary this weekend. The worldwide all-volunteer movement recovers food that would otherwise be discarded and provides free vegan and vegetarian meals in over 1,000 cities in 65 countries. The movement began in 1980 to protest the U.S. military budget, poverty and destruction of the environment. Food Not Bombs volunteers have been arrested dozens of times while attempting to feed the hungry.